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Good Things, the Twelfth. June 2018.

1 walking through coffee fields at sunset

2 breathing room

3 gentle strangers

4 Mau Mau caves, paradise lost waterfalls, funny little yellow boats

5 fog, school in the clouds, lamplight like Narnia

6 24-hours of no rain

7 1,000 pieces, finished

8 driving stick shift on the other side of the road, successfully

10 this house, a home away from home, a surprise

11 baboons on the porch swing

12 sunrise over mount longanot, view from my room

13 hearing a description of being deep under water and turning up to see the sunlight

14 fried chicken

15 fire in the fireplace, masai blanket around my shoulders, and a fresh book

16 long, lazy afternoons with my girls

17 baboons on the roof

18 remission. almost.

19 19 years

20 hiking mount longanot

21 final project, finally done

22 high school musical performance of high school musical

23 double, full rainbow

24 bought a ticket home

25 walking in fog and drizzle

26 peanut butter cookies

27 mangoes

28 going home

29 Djibouti, desert golf

30 good friend, long walk, ocean breeze

15 Things I Want Tell My Graduating Third Culture Kid Seniors

Five years ago I wrote a post, 15 Things I Want to Tell My Third Culture Kids. I’ve been writing my kids letters and telling them things for years. When they return to school every three months, they return with packets of letters. One for each week, usually written on the back of a photograph of people and places they love. I’ve written them verses, prayers, quotes, poems (so much Mary Oliver), song lyrics, and rambling mom-junk. And we talk. So, they know this stuff. But, too bad for them, their mom is a writer and sends some of that mom-junk out to the wide, beautiful world.

I wrote this several weeks ago, a lifetime ago.

You can always come home. Home might not be this house but home is always this family. Come rejoicing, come weeping, come whole, come broken, come lonely, come with packs of friends, come in silence, come and spill it all. This table, meaning the table I’ve set in my heart for our family, always has room.

You can never go back. There is no rewind on life and no redoing spent years. You can’t go back, even if you come back. In You Can’t Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe wrote, “Make your mistakes, take your chances, look silly, but keep on going. Don’t freeze up.” Keep going. Djibouti will keep going and changing, too. When you meet again, whether this country or the people you have known on the continent, know that you will have to reintroduce yourself and re-explore the other and rediscover who you can be together, or from a distance, now. You might want to go back, you might think things were better or easier or simpler back when…that’s nostalgia. That’s saudade. That’s okay. Those days were good and beautiful and hilarious and I can testify to that. They are part of you now, in your very being, the fabric of what makes you, you. But you can’t live them again. Hold them, honor them, and live into the now and the new.

Guard your heart, your mind, your soul, your body. Be wise, be discerning. Make good choices. Be patient, take your time. Stay in touch with old friends. Don’t sink into social media or the internet or porn or alcohol or consumerism.

But don’t lock it up. Don’t shut the door to keep out what might feel like overwhelming American culture. Don’t be afraid to be tender and loving. Don’t cling so fast to friends far away that you don’t have space for new friends. Be vulnerable, in the appropriate relationships.

Don’t treat Americans with contempt. Even, especially, when they have no clue what a ‘Djibouti’ is. Hear them out, learn their stories, ask inquisitive questions.

Don’t be afraid to be who you are. All that Djibouti awesomeness. All that Kenya awesomeness. All that you awesomeness. You can blend it up however you want, but don’t be ashamed or embarrassed or too proud. Be you.

Be honest about what you don’t know. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help. People might think it is strange that you don’t know something they think is normal American life, but most of the time, they will also enjoy helping you and you never know what friendship might come of it. Be humble.

Explore and be curious and savor. Think of your college campus or your new city as though you have just moved abroad, which for all practical purposes, you have. Think of American English as a new language, restaurants as exotic local fare, a trip downtown as an exciting cultural exploration. Try stuff. Try broomball. Try downhill skiing. Try snowball fights. (Don’t try licking the flagpole in January). Try saying “oofdah.”

Seek out a trusted advisor with whom you can be completely transparent and ask for cultural guidance. Here gender and race conversations look different. Here poverty, justice, corruption, wealth, privilege these things look different and are talked about in different ways. It will be hard and you might feel confused sometimes, but try to learn to contextualize your conversations and learn from the people around you. Conversations in America have changed since mom and dad lived there and we can’t be specifically helpful in this regard because we are often confused, too. In this same vein, seek out a counselor, a trained professional, who understands cross-cultural issues.

Find a strong, healthy, joyful, creative, supportive, purposeful spiritual body to be part of. Maybe a church, maybe a campus group, maybe a small group of friends. Explore who you are, spiritually, apart from mom and dad.

Root yourself. You might be tempted to flit around and there will be potentially appropriate times to leave – to transfer or to study abroad – but don’t move just for the sake of movement. Settle in, make a home, even a dorm home, connect with people, invest in your community.

Call home. Text. Facebook message. Send photos. When you do, be honest. Goods and bads. Talk us through it. We’re transitioning, too. We miss you like whale sharks would miss the sea.

I am eternally grateful that we have had the honor of sharing this life abroad with you. Djibouti hasn’t always been easy, but what is easy? No place is easy. The way you love this small, fascinating nation blows my mind. You have embraced it, the heat and the dust, French school and Djiboutian best friends, Papa Noel and Eid Mubarak, volcanoes and ocean, with exuberance. And it has embraced you back. This is a rare thing. Including you, I can count on two hands the number of non-Djiboutian American children who have spent their lives, from toddler-hood to graduation in this country, and you have loved each other well.

You are not alone. You can cross the sea, go to the highest mountain, the lowest volcanic lava tunnel, you are not alone. God is with you, cliché and true. But also, all the people who have loved you and taught you and coached you and prayed for you are with you. You don’t leave friends or family behind, not when they have invested in you. They have become part of who you are, part of your character and your stories. You know this, from the Open Houses that we had/will have. We need to have them on two continents, with letters from people in dozens of other countries, because love and support is coming at you from all corners of the globe.

Live here and now. They might be hard words to live in and I’m still learning how to do this well. Right here, this now. And then this one and then this one. Pay attention to your here and your now and feel it. This actually builds new pathways in your brain. Did you know that? How you choose to receive and embrace each moment matters. Make it good, even the hard ones. Learn from them. Savor the good moments. Laugh when you want to, cry when you want to. Get angry and feel wonder. Here. Now.

Okay and a couple bonus, obligatory things:

I love you. I’m proud of you. Always and forever, to the moon and around to Djibouti and back around again.

What do you want to say to your graduating senior, TCK or not?

Read suggestions on helping TCKs transition to university in Finding Home.

Find more wisdom for graduating TCKs here.

The Bookshelf, June 2018

Summer reading seems to be a popular blog or podcast topic. For me, summer reading is no different than winter, fall, or spring reading. I read a lot and don’t make changes based on seasons. I read based on what books come up in my library queue.

Here’s what has been in my head lately:

This is Where You Belong by Melody Warn This is a wonderful book for anyone moving, graduating, starting over in a new city. Where you live and how feel about it, how you interact with it, how you find meaning in your place, matters. Warn offers practical tips for forming a connection with where you live. Even though I’ve lived for fifteen years in the same city and even though I have to modify some of her suggestions based on my specific location, I found it encouraging and challenging.

Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle. Put simply, LOVE.

Inspired by Rachel Held Evans I actually purchased this book as a preorder and I became the publisher’s biggest pain in the ass. I couldn’t download the bonus content. So I wrote to the publisher and asked for a different format. It took almost aw eek and about six different attempts before I was able to finally access the materials. I have no idea why. But I was incredibly impressed with this woman’s patience and willingness to keep trying. That has nothing to do with the quality of the book, just sayin’. The subtitle, “xxx and loving the Bible again,” fits me pretty well right now, so I was excited to dive into this. Plus, she has a few paragraphs about what it means to us evangelical children to be named Rachel. For her, she was upset to hear it meant, “Ewe,” which she first took as “eeewwww,” and thought she had perhaps been an ugly newborn. For me, the name Rachel made me horribly embarrassed every time the story of Jacob and Rachel and Leah came up. There was a Jacob in my grade at school and on my bus and people teased me. I didn’t even like that Rachel was the ‘beautiful’ one. She was also nasty.

The Very Worst Missionary by Jamie Wright. Don’t read it if you can’t handle her language. I was hoping for a little more insight into the issues she takes and didn’t really care about her pets, but that’s just me. I’ve read her blog for a long time, so I was able to fill in a lot of the blanks and I appreciated hearing her personal journey of discovering the God who is always, ever, Immanuel, God with us. Her voice is an important one in helping the North American church examine, critically, its actions in the world and she has very valid concerns and issues.

What Doesn’t Kill Us by Scott Carney. Modern life protects the body from our physical, natural environment, maintaining a constant temperature, pursuing comfort, etc. Unless you live in Djibouti, where things like dust and heat force the natural surroundings on us…This book talks about why putting our body into contact with our environment can make us stronger and healthier. If you’re the type inclined to take ice cold showers, you’ll enjoy this book. If you aren’t that type, you’ll enjoy reading about other people doing that.

The Dream of You, by Jo Saxton. “Let go of broken identities and live the live you were made for.”

Scary Close, dropping the act and finding true intimacy, by Donald Miller Ever since Blue Like Jazz, I’ve read Donald Miller. I have a bit more trouble getting into his newer books but I appreciate watching him grow and change and adapt as a writer. It encourages me, to realize I don’t have to only write about one thing.

Scream, chilling adventures in the science of fear by Margee Kerr Why do we like (or if you are like me, hate) scary movies? Why do we choose to do something we know will terrify us?

Deep Survival, who lives, who dies, and why, by Laurence Gonzales

Educated by Tara Westover

Longing for Home by Frederick Buechner

What are you reading?

Third Culture Kids Checking out Colleges

Quick Link: Third Culture Kids, College, and Culture Shock

I wrote this week at A Life Overseas about observations my kids and I made last summer while on college tours in the upper midwest of the US.

We saw some funny things. And some awesome things. And learned a ton.

Here’s a start:

Girls wear sport shorts, tight and short sport shorts, or pajamas (dressed to impress?).

Minnesotans play a lot of hockey and broomball.

If you grow up in a country with no snow or ice, you don’t know what broomball is (it is okay to ask, get used to asking).

TCKs are the only seniors in a room who have to clarify the question, “Where are you from?” (do you mean where was I born? where my passport says I’m from? where I go to school? where I keep most of my belongings? where I stay every few years in the summer? where my parents pay taxes and will get in-state tuition? where I came from just this morning?).

There are a lot of white people in the Midwest, especially in rural areas (notice, my kids are also white, but they barely realize it. What this means is that the color of a person’s skin tells you very little of their actual history and story. Ask questions, listen, be slow to judge).

Parents and students respond with more excitement to the prospect of a Starbucks on campus (as opposed to all the way across the street) than they do to a $15 YEARLY membership at a club that provides bikes, kayaks, paddle boards, sports equipment, and intramural teams to join. Or than they do to pretty much every other thing mentioned on tour. Starbucks is very important.

Click here to read the rest and to share your own observations: Third Culture Kids, College, and Culture Shock

Are Expat Families Really Any Different?

Quick link: But What’s So Different About Being an Expat Family, Anyway?

I wrote at Velvet Ashes about being an expatriate family and what that means for my kids. Honestly? I don’t know exactly what it means for them, they are going to have to figure that out on their own. I have some ideas and we have some conversations, but ultimately, as two of them are about to ‘launch,’ they will have to do some work in this area. From race to gender to wealth to faith, things have been different for my kids than they would have been had we stayed in suburban Minnesota.

My twins are seniors and our conversations have naturally turned toward university choices. For my family, of course, that includes conversations about America and culture, home and upbringing. We moved to Somalia when the twins were two and we’ve lived in the Horn of Africa ever since.

One evening, my daughter asked, “But what’s really so different about growing up here? How does my experience compare with that of a high school girl in Minnesota?”

How can I even begin to answer?

Read the rest of the essay here: But What’s So Different About Being an Expat Family, Anyway?